No Context in Retrospect.

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It’s been three weeks since No Context ended. In case you missed it, No Context was my 400 day long project that consisted of a thirty second video every single day. In the real world that means that for over a year I looked at the world almost exclusively as something to film, edit and publish. The project spanned a house move, a university change, two stolen phones, two film festivals, three editing programs, at least five cameras (mainly due to previously stated phone theft) and a good number of important personal developments. In other terms, I started this project in a pre-Brexit, pre-Trump world.

I want to take this moment to thank the people around me who put up with incessant filming for all this time, and the people who watched the videos regularly (I noticed and appreciated it, honest) but especially to the people I’ve met since I started and who have never known me without a camera in hand and a twenty-four-hour deadline to meet. I promise that it won’t always be the case but you have been very patient. There’s also about ten people that made it into more than twenty videos each. I commend you.

What’s happened in the last three weeks has been a strangely liberating process. The sun has set twenty one times in streaks of lovely colour and I have not filmed it once. Nights in with my friends watching dvds and debating the merits of social action or standing on a balcony in a heatwave, as well as nights out with my friends playing music in bars have passed by calmly and not been turned into frenetic montages. I’ve been in good moods and bad moods and turned none of them into aesthetic, and before I decided to write this sentence the only people who knew about my new tattoo were those who’d seen it person. I’ve been able to go to bed without touching editing software and not be wracked with guilt. I’ve also had the time to develop and film more complete, longer projects, which has been something I’ve had to patiently wait for until this point and am hugely enjoying.

I do, however, somewhat miss the urgency and purpose that this gave every single day. Yes it was difficult to find things and time to film during exam weeks and when I wasn’t doing anything dynamic, but the challenge was part of the fun. Looking back at the project I barely recognize the style or content of the first hundred or so videos, they already feel like a drastically different person filmed them. I’m sure that in time this same veil will descend over the most recent videos, the last two or three months that almost feel like I’m still living them when I watch them back. All in all, I think it’s good to no longer have this way to spy on my past self or to have to produce and publicise my day-to-day existence anymore. I think I deeply underestimated the time this project would take and the effect it would have on how I live and experience my own life. I just jumped in with all the naivety I could muster (not much) and while I don’t think I’d do it again, I’m glad I saw it through to the end.

This is the final chapter of No Context, but not the last of the project.

 

Cannes Diary 23/5/17

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I arrived in Cannes on the 16th, just before the festival. That was a week ago. I can tell you now that a week in Cannes is unlike a week anywhere else. The most obvious question here is “How many films have I seen in that time?” and the truth is that I saw four back to back some days and can no longer see straight so I don’t know. In fact I am currently so frazzled that I came back to where I’m staying in Cannes at one point to find that my roommate had used a spoon instead of a knife to spread Nutella and I am actively distraught about having to now decide between using a spoon or washing the spoon and getting a knife. It’s better than the first three days though when I was so excited that I forgot to eat and then promptly nearly fainted while walking to a screening.

What day of the week is it? Who knows. The calendar says Tuesday but to be honest I can now only mentally classify days by which film headlines that day. This is not helpful on days like when there were more than ten films premiering, and that does actually happen. I am vaguely aware that Cannes has not always seemed like the back of my hand and that my normal life awaits me far far away from the croisette. Somewhere out there is what I used to do with my time before my main hobbies became standing in or next to queues at all hours of the day. And it really is all hours. Very early on I went to a 10pm showing followed by an 8am showing the next day. This was an error and I hope to never do it again. Other people have been to a midnight screening followed by an 8am screening. These people are insane.

Cannes is batshit insane on every possible level. Firstly, anyone you  know instantly becomes your friend. If you recognise them, even if you never really spoke they are now you’re best buddy, especially if they have a higher level badge and can get you into more films. Everyone’s a potential ticket, even random strangers. The best method to get into films you want to see in the main screen is to entirely ignore Cannes’ ticketing system and get really good at making signs with the name of films on them. (hey, turns out bubble writing does have a use after all). I remember the first ticket I was given like this and how amazed I was at its very existence in my hands. That took ten minutes and a lot of talking to strangers. I have now got to a point of blasé where I showed up to an 11:30 showing one morning at 10:44 with no ticket and a sign. By 10:57 I was in the auditorium which, by the way, has a dramatic lack of leg room and are for some reason air-conditioned to -1000 degrees while it’s hot enough to cook bacon outside. Good luck dressing for that ! But, then again good luck dressing at all.

Cannes has a dress code. So that’s fun. “tenue correcte exigée” what precisely is ‘correct’ and are they really checking? who knows. Rumour has it people get thrown out for not having socks. I saw a girl at an evening showing wearing a khaki jacket one time. Beats me. Heels are pretty obligatory though, so my feet are now made of 70% blister, 10% mosquito bites and 20% toe-nail polish. I also lost a shoe somewhere in my adventures, a fact I blame entirely on the existence of beaches and the amount of sand that ended up stuck to my shoe forcing me to momentarily abandon it and then have to work up the courage to ask around if staff had found a solitary shoe. Turns out they had and they were so confused by someone losing one shoe that they even kept it. It’s worse in the evening when everyone has to be dressed up to the nines. You want to see people in tuxedos in a mcdonalds in broad daylight? Come to Cannes, it’s not even the weirdest thing you’ll see here.

This has been a stream of consciousness rant about an incredibly eventful week. If you want to read my considered opinion on the Classic films I have been seeing at Cannes, click here. Otherwise, hang around long enough and I might just share my opinions on some of the other stoning films at this year’s festival. You know, once I’ve slept and stuff.

Dark Rooms and Headsets

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I am so legitimately impressed that my overly-specific search term found this image that I don’t even mind the watermarks

When I watch films it’s normally in one of three ways. On a computer, on a DVD player or in a cinema. I feel like that’s basically how audiovisual content is consumed these days by the vast majority of people. However, I have recently had the opportunity to experience a few different forms of moving images and it’s been an interesting journey.

The first that kept surprising me was the idea of film as a physical commodity. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I always knew this was the case but I hadn’t ever thought about the implications. Now that I study cinema at Uni the implications, I have realised, are wide and varied and they come up when you least expect them. Early manuals on how to edit films talk about how many feet of film a certain shot ought to be. Film was rationed in some countries during the second world war and this helped solidify 90 minutes as the length of a film. Subtitles had to be manually added to every frame of a film print and couldn’t be removed at the touch of a button. All these things blew my small 21st century brain, but at least it got me thinking.

I spent a good deal of time this term watching films projected on original 35mm copies and while thinking about these films (for reasons that will soon be very apparent. Wink wink, nudge nudge) I came to realise how different the experience of watching a physical copy of a film is to a digital copy. A physical film turns itself into an event every time. It can’t be seen without dimming the lights and projecting it from the back of a dark room. Yes, of course, this is still what happens in any cinema projecting any kind of film but it’s no longer necessary. We keep the spectacle of the cinema experience without actually having a cinema experience. Everyone knows that a digital overhead projector works just as well in an open-plan boardroom as a hushed cinema screen. Secondly, a physical film makes noise. Well, the large mechanical projector makes noise as it shows the film. It clicks, it whirrs, it makes a low humming noise and sometimes, just sometimes, the bulb flickers. There’s no point when you can forget the physical presence of the film; especially not when every ten minutes or so the reel needs changing. Here the projectionist has to execute a smooth change or pull the audience out of the film for the second it takes to figure it out.

Apart from anything else, a film on 35mm jumps into life from white, not from black. A dead computer, TV or phone screen is black. Even the default “no media” screen in editing software is black. But a projector, before the film is loaded and blocks the light is a square of white light on a white sheet. The people, places and situations that you see aren’t what’s projected, it’s what’s blocking this pure white light. Very literally a 35mm film is a series of photorealistic shadows telling a story. It’s really no wonder early thinkers likened this to hypnotism and ghosts.

On the other end of the scale I also recently had a chance to see a film in 360 VR. I’d seen 360 videos around but until now had never put on a VR headset and tested the immersive experience. I don’t recommend it for people who get travel sick in trains or cars. If that’s you, you’re gonna have a really bad time in VR. If not, go for it, you don’t really get the hype or potential of the medium until you’ve seen it for yourself, and it is a new medium. The whole experience is different even on the most basic physical level. In a cinema if you’re moving, shifting in your seat, looking around it most likely means you’re bored (or me hiding from the screen in literally any horror film). In a VR headset moving is how you know you’re engaged with the story. You reach out to touch things, you brace yourself for balance when the camera moves and you look around frantically following sources of sound. If a cinema paralyses you when it’s good a VR film is like an invitation to a dance.